Downtown Brooklyn

Honoring a trailblazer: BWBA celebrates Justice Reinaldo Rivera’s impact and legacy

October 2, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The rain stopped on Wednesday just long enough for the sun to come out for the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association’s (BWBA) celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Alongside the Appellate Division, Second Department, and the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the BWBA transformed Monroe Street into a hub of celebration and reflection as members gathered for the annual Hispanic Heritage Month event, this year themed, “Latinos: Driving Prosperity, Power, and Progress in America.”

Amidst the festivities, the spotlight fell warmly upon Hon. Reinaldo Rivera, a figure of distinguished service and commitment, who recently retired from the Appellate Division bench. A career rooted in the pursuit of justice, Rivera’s journey from his educational strides at Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola and St. John’s University School of Law to a celebrated legal luminary, has been nothing short of inspirational.

From left: Hon. Cenceria Edwards, Deborah Johnson, Betsey Jean-Jacques, Hon. Lillian Wan, Hon. Connie Mallafre-Melendez, Hon. Ellen Spodek, president of the Brooklyn Brandeis Society, Hon. Reinaldo Rivera, Jovia Radix, Angelicque Moreno, president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, Hon. Genine Edwards, Helene Blank, and Victoria Serigano.

With a legal career beginning in private practice and evolving to his pivotal role as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Second Judicial District, Rivera’s contributions to criminal defense, civil litigation, and family law have been profound. His appointment as an Associate Justice for the Appellate Division, Second Department in 2002 marked him as the first Latino ever to grace this esteemed position.

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As Hon. Hector LaSalle, the presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, introduced Rivera, the audience was not just reminded of the honoree’s professional accolades but also his humaneness and deep connection to family and community. Rivera, a product of robust family bonds and enriched by the mentorship of figures like Vivian Agress, a past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association, exemplifies the synthesis of professional excellence and personal grace.

From left: Angelicque Moreno, Hon. Enedina Pilar Sanchez, Hon. Lourdes Ventura, Hon. Reinaldo Rivera, Hon. Helen Voutsinas, Hon. Connie Mallafre-Melendez, Hon. Jeanette Ruiz, Hon. Fracois Rivera, and Jovia Radix.

Agress, whose legacy continues to resonate through the Vivian H. Agress Trailblazer Award, was instrumental in Rivera’s early involvement with local bar associations. It was an intertwining of paths that would lead Rivera to significant contributions to legal discourse and practice, not just as a legal practitioner but as an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University School of Law.

Rivera’s reflections during the event were a journey through his familial roots, the foundations of his values and ethics molded from the impactful experiences of loss, joy, and the complexities of the human condition. He brought to the fore a narrative rich with the echoes of familial tales, the wisdom gleaned, and the intrinsic belief in the power of humanity’s shared experiences.

Justice Rivera, who joked that he often doesn’t say much, managed to let slip on a couple of occasions that he is a fan of Star Trek. 

“Gene Roddenberry (the writer, producer, and creator of Star Trek) envisioned a universe that transcends planet Earth, but that recognized that planet Earth, to the human race, with the diversity and beauty of our differences, it is our commonalities that bring us together into obtaining those things that millenia ago would have been unthinkable, unimaginable and impossible,” Rivera said.  

“I’m a Trekkie in that sense,” Rivera said with a laugh. “No, I don’t go to the conventions, even though I have a fantasy of going and dressing like Picard, and acting like Picard. My point is that I’m very proud of all of us and proud of the fact that I’ve gotten to spend some time with each one of you going back to my first experience with the bar associations.”

From left: Hon. Lara Genovesi, Hon. Jeffrey Sunshine, and Hon. Nancy Sunshine.

As Justice Rivera accepted the award amidst applause, his humility and graciousness were as evident as his legal acumen. A career marked by recognitions including the Emilio Nunez Award for Judicial Excellence from the Puerto Rican Bar Association and the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Brooklyn Bar Association, Rivera stood as a testament to the power of steadfast service, unyielding pursuit of justice, and the profound impact of familial and mentorship bonds.

From left: Hon. Larry Martin, Hon. Bernard Graham, Hon. Esther “Mickey” Morgenstern, and Hon. Carl Landicino.

The BWBA’s annual event was not just a celebration of Hispanic Heritage but an acknowledgment of figures like Justice Reinaldo Rivera — individuals who through service, excellence, and human connection continue to drive prosperity, power, and progress in America.


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